What Does the Aboriginal Flag Represent?

The Australian Aboriginal flag, along with the Torres Strait Islander flag, holds a lot of significance and meaning. Both emblematise the country’s rich Indigenous history and culture, which you can learn more about through Aboriginal cultural awareness training with Evolve Communities. 

The Australian Aboriginal flag symbolises the Aboriginal people, the earth, and the sun, and characterises the people’s spiritual connection to the land. Meanwhile, the Torres Strait Island flag represents the land, the sea, and all Torres Strait Islanders, symbolising the different island groups and their sea-faring culture

The Australian Aboriginal Flag

The Australian Aboriginal flag was first raised on “National Aborigines Day” in July 1971 during a land rights rally at Victoria Square in Adelaide. It was also used at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra the year after.

Who designed the Australian Aboriginal flag? The flag was designed by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, a Luritja man from central Australia. He’s also a member of the Stolen Generations.

What does the Aboriginal flag represent? Designed by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, the flag represents the Aboriginal people of Australia and their spiritual connection to the land. The flag consists of a rectangle divided horizontally, with a yellow circle in the centre. 

The top half is coloured black, symbolising the Aboriginal people; the bottom half is red, representing the earth and the people’s relationship to the land, as well as the colour ochre used in Aboriginal ceremonies. The yellow circle emphasises the sun as the constant renewer of life.

Recognition of the Australian Aboriginal Flag

In 1994, the Australian government took steps to give the Aboriginal flag legal recognition. The following year, it was proclaimed a ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act 1953.

In 1997, the Federal Court of Australia officially recognised Thomas as the author of the flag, protecting it under the Copyright Act of 1968 and stipulating that it can only be reproduced under the legislation or with the permission of Thomas. He then awarded rights solely to Carroll & Richardson Flagworld Pty Ltd for the flag’s manufacture.

In 2022, the government announced that the copyright of the Australian Aboriginal flag was transferred from Thomas to the Commonwealth of Australia (though Thomas retains moral rights, including the right to be identified as its creator). As part of this agreement, all royalties from the copyright are passed on to the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). The Commonwealth also agreed to fund a scholarship for Indigenous students, an online education portal on the flag’s history, and a non-profit organisation as payments for activities related to the flag.

The Australian Aboriginal flag is popularly recognised as the official flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and is flown or displayed permanently at Aboriginal centres, councils, businesses, schools, and homes throughout the country. 

The Torres Strait Islander Flag

The Torres Strait Islander flag was designed by Bernard Namok of Thursday Island. It was the winning entry in a design competition held by the Island Coordinating Council in 1992. 

In the same year, it was adopted during the Torres Strait Islands Cultural Festival and was recognised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission (ATSIC), giving it equal prominence with the Australian Aboriginal flag. In 1995, it was also proclaimed a ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act 1953.

The Torres Strait Islander flag features three horizontal panels. The top and bottom panels are green, while the middle is blue, and each one is separated by thin black lines. The green represents the land, the blue stands for the sea, and the black symbolises the people.

At the centre of the flag sits a white Dhari with a white five-pointed star underneath. The Dhari, which is a traditional headdress, emblematises all Torres Strait Islander people. The star represents the five island groups of the Torres Strait; it also acts as an important symbol for seafaring people, who use astronomy for navigation. The white colour of the Dhari and the star represents peace.

The Torres Strait Island flag stands for the unity and identity of the Torres Strait Island community of Australia.

Learn More About Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples with Evolve Communities

Evolve Communities works towards building a stronger and more inclusive nation by promoting cultural awareness. Explore our Indigenous cultural competency and ally training options today to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture!

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